Twitter: I’m Turning Myself In

I also know what a selfie is and how to take one.

I also know what a selfie is and how to take one.

Some of you may be surprised to learn that I know how to tweet, and even more surprised that I know how to create a hashtag that will change my life. Yes, I, who never had a problem sitting down and facing my literary problems am so far off track, I’m surrendering myself to the mercy of the very social media frontiers I intended to ignore.  With Twitter and a hashtag, I can be held publicly accountable for my writing time and output.

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My Fifteen Seconds of Fame

Five Non-financial Rewards of Publication

It took me seven years to reach the point where my work attracted the attention of an agent, and another seven to get from the agent to the publisher who finally cut the advance check. Spread over fourteen years, the proceeds of my writing career have been sufficient to feed one goldfish once a day. Obviously, I am not in it for the money. The secret, I am convinced, is to write faster.  But until I get up to speed, I make a point of enjoying the many non-financial rewards of published life. Instead of getting paid:

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Summer Writing with Dogs

Evening in the foothills of the Appalachians

 You know you are a novelist when your ideal vacation is solitary confinement in a remote location without phone or internet, where although your itinerary consists of venturing no further than your chair for ten hours, your trek takes you far into the uncharted reaches of your imagination where you entertain yourself by obsessing over fictional progeny, and where, if you don’t make some small effort, you could exist entirely on coffee, diet coke, and chardonnay.  Take me away…

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Writing Critique: Survival Tips for Taking the Hits

On the first day of my first writing class 16 people sat around a big table.  The second day there were 8.  By the end of the semester, four people occupied a much smaller table, and the next fall I returned to a completely new group of writers.  Writers who were not scared away by the first actual writing assignment were eliminated in the feedback sessions.  Lord Byron said,   

“In this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena.”     

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I Spent Spring Break With an Outline or How to Write an Outline in Five Easy Steps

Outlines generally enjoy lowlife status among writers these days, but I love them and believe they are misunderstood.  As a person, I can’t get past the coffee maker in the morning without an outline.  As a writer, I depend on outlines to focus my creative power and tell me where I am, where I’m going, and how I’ll get there. I recently spent Spring Break with an outline.  Alone for 24 hours before family arrived, on a pressure-free beach staring at hours of profound silence that demanded nothing but breaks, I created an outline for my next novel.  And now, fresh off the experience, I will explain, in Five Easy Steps, how I did it:

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The Shocking Truth About Writer’s Block

And How To Cure it Before National Novel Writing Month Begins

The affliction known as Writer’s Block is about to go viral with National Novel Writing Month around the corner.  A week from now, writers everywhere will sit down at their computers, stare at the blank screen, and update their Facebook status to complain about creative paralysis.  By mid-November,Writer’s Block will reach epidemic proportions.  But is it really writer’s block?  And can it be cured?

Writer’s Block occurs when emotional or intellectual demands divert mental energy.

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Life After Wuthering Heights
Possession by A.S. Byatt:  Reviewed by Cindy Jones

 

She had me on page one:

 

“The book was thick and black and covered with dust.  It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow…The librarian handed it to Roland Michell, who was sitting waiting for it in the Reading Room of the London Library.  It had been exhumed from Locked Safe no. 5.”

 

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Summer Reading, So Far

Summer Reading

This was a banner year for me in the summer travel department.  And combining summer reading with summer travel meant packing enough print books and e-books to get me to Europe, down The Rhine, through London, over the Ohio countryside, and still be still turning pages in the high desert of New Mexico.

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The Novel in the Attic

Ah, summer!

This blog was previously posted on Girlfriends Bookclub.  The assignment: provide an excerpt from a novel that never got published  
          The first completed novel of my dedicated writing life was banished to the dark attic long ago where, with twenty one rejection letters it lingered in solitary confinement.  I wrote Trials of a Lawyer’s Wife when I had four small children and a minivan.  No time for research, I wrote what I knew, and this novel was set in carpool line.  Protagonist Lucy Barnes, a young mother, struggles to find her place in the private school Parents’ Association all the while wondering:  when did affluence become a virtue?  My first novel was destined for immortal obscurity.      
          But secretly, over the years, the banished novel grew to mythic status in my imagination.  Time and distance softened its edges and it acquired the aspect of a Romantic figure; heroine of its own banker box.  Like money in the bank or a casserole in the freezer—the mythic novel-in-exile made me feel secretly rich, as if I could write long into the late afternoon and still put dinner on the table.  Whenever I felt like it, I could reach for this fully-formed novel and instantly enlarge my body of work.  Absence heightened its possibilities; editors might be less aloof now that its author was listed in Contemporary American Authors.
          So when Girlfriends Book Club announced the topic for this blog cycle during which everyone would share their novel that never got published, I relished the idea of exhuming my manuscript.
          I will not belabor the sense of complacent assurance with which I approached this task except to say that, left to the last minute before leaving for vacation, I suffered attacks of panic when I realized my folly.
My trunk novel was banished to the attic for a reason. 
          No sooner had I opened its pages than I realized my first novel was a walking talking embodiment of every newbie writing mistake possible.  A simple excerpt from the first chapter was not possible because the story didn’t start there.  I read on and on seeking the beginning until I found it—in Chapter 5.  The sentences are poorly constructed, the reader is constantly being told and then reminded.  It sounds juvenile; it is improbable.   I included too many things from my own life that didn’t apply to the life of my protagonist therefore my protagonist is inconsistent and unworthy of a literary life.  But horrors–it is full of filler, none of which flows in any discernible direction.  Perhaps there is evidence of crude artistic ability of the sort reviewers declare would have done well in the hands of a more skillful writer, but any attempt to resurrect this manuscript now would require a lot of work.
          I realize I may have violated the spirit of this assignment but I could not provide an excerpt for this blog without major revision.  So I spent a good day reworking the following excerpt–a short scene in which Lucy, a young mother who is barely able to navigate carpool line, is stood up by her Help.  I’ve had so much fun revising, I’m thinking about resurrecting parts of this novel to use in stories.
          I hope you like it.
Lucy Barnes vs. the Laundry
          On Monday morning Adela did not come to work.  Lucy checked the front window every three minutes expecting to see Adela parking her car but Adela did not show up and the morning did not assume its usual sense of direction.  Lucy pushed back her shower and refilled her coffee mug, stacking the used cereal bowls in the sink while Anne Elizabeth stood directly in front of the screen full of Muppets.  Adela had never missed work without calling.
          At 9:30 Lucy gathered her hair in a barrette and cleared the dishwasher she’d been leaving for Adela.  By 10:00, when she had the washing machine, the dishwasher, and the vacuum cleaner operating simultaneously like a symphony in minor housekeeping, Daisy barked so seriously that Lucy thought Adela had surely arrived.  Lucy threw down the Windex and walked to the door but it was the mailman delivering an envelope with big red letters.  If only Adela would show up and guide the house into its normal routine, Lucy would be free to call the car insurance company and beg for retroactive reinstatement.  Instead, she dithered between kitchen and laundry room, tripping over a jumble of video equipment John had left charging, further derailing her commitment to the morning.  She made beds, sorted laundry, carried toys to the playroom, and hauled John’s golf clubs from the entryway to the garage, all the while feeling as if she’d been stood up on a date.
          Lucy drove to the grocery store and the dry cleaners wishing she hadn’t said that thing to Adela about not forgetting to clear the dishwasher.  But on the other hand, as she fetched the boys from school, she told herself that Adela might have a perfectly logical explanation for her absence.  Things come up.  But Lucy was home, single-handedly unloading groceries and transferring laundry while the boys ate one cookie each, when she thought to check her messages.  Adela might have called while she was out.  The first message was from an alpha mom of the Parents Committee trolling pre-K moms for fresh blood.  The next was from John, full of heavy sighing—not the romantic kind—complaining that Lucy had not paid the auto insurance premium.  “Would you please take care of this?  I’ll be home late tonight.”
          Lucy leaned against the wall.
          “Mom, Jack called me hamster-head,” Andrew whined.
          “Not now,” Lucy said.
          “But Mom!”
          “Andrew, I’m on the phone.”
          Lucy retrieved the third message but the voice was so timid she had to replay it twice to understand the words.
          “Hello Miss Lucy, I am Elena, the niece of Adela.  She asked me to call to tell you she has cancer.  She can’t work for you anymore.  Bye.”
          Lucy hit replay again and again hoping she’d missed something, but the child’s voice repeated the same information, saying the word cancer as if it were a simple calendar conflict.  Lucy slid to the kitchen floor where toddler hand-prints on wall and windows cried out in silent need.  All productive activity stopped and the Tudor household went into limbo.  The Windex would stay where it was, next to a roll of paper towels on the counter.  The laundry would not move anymore today.  The pile of clothes waiting to be folded would wait overnight and dinner would be an impossible task.  Andrew made haste to remove a handful of cookies from the jar on the counter.  One of the cats strolled over and rubbed up against Lucy.
If Adela died now, nearly one-third of her short life would have been spent picking up after Lucy and her kids.
          “Mommy.  Are you crying?” Andrew asked.
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The Cindy Jones Fiction Awards

This blog was previously published on Girlfriends Book Club

The Pulitzer Prize board declined to award a prize in fiction this year, another hit in an otherwise difficult year for the novel.  And since the Pulitzer Prize people are supposedly a friend of books, their failure to recognize a winning novel is especially troubling.
The good news is that I have picked up the slack.  Rather than go through an entire year disparaging the lack of a winning novel and forgoing the attendant celebration, I’ve done the heavy lifting and hereby announce my list of prize-winning books.  (The lucky winners will receive a link to my website and a self-guided tour of my personal blog, First Draft).
But first, my rules for choosing winners.  I must have read the book recently (since my last book-review blog post) and be able to articulate each book’s particular brilliance.  For guidance, I rely on the wise words of literary scholar, Lord David Cecil:
“…[the literary critics’] aim should be to interpret the work they are writing about and to help readers  appreciate it, by defining and analyzing those qualities that make it precious and by indicating the angle of vision from which its beauties are visible.”  
(Did you get that, Pulitzer Prize board?)
Without further ado, I present the most recent Cindy Jones Prizes for fiction:

Jane Austen Award goes to the late Elizabeth Taylor (the British writer, not the actress) for her body of work, reissued in this centennial year of her birth.  One critic nailed her last novel, Blaming, (my favorite, so far), saying, the style is economical and elegant as well as horridly funny.  Her sharp pen occasionally jabs me in the manner of Jane Austen.

Peter Cameron Writer Crush Award goes to… Peter Cameron for his slim new release, Coral Glynn.  Mid-century period novel combines elegant prose with a story whose events turn pages for you.  It is possible to dream about being at Manderley again.

You Had Me At Page One Award goes to The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly, a novel that could get by on structure alone—mysterious promises begin unfolding slowly and skillfully on page one—yet delivers on story as well.  The structure reminded me of Little Bee by Chris Cleve.

Best Metaphor Award goes to Aimee Bender for The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake in which the brother’s metamorphosis into furniture is a surprising and effective vehicle for conveying poignant loss.

Hangover Award goes to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I read so far past my bedtime I had a reading hangover the next day.

No Brainer Award:  The Marriage Plot by Geoffrey Eugenides delivers a complex novel with fresh themes and rich observations that challenge my status quo.  What is there to think about?

Who Knew? Award generated a tie:
  • The Long and Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott.  A romance by the author of Little Women.  Really.
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